Is Jimmy Fallon sitting pretty?
With Conan O'Brien likely heading out the door at NBC and Jay Leno taking a beating in the media for getting his old job back, Jimmy Fallon may be the one person in position to come out of this whole mess smelling like a rose.
If -- or is it when -- O'Brien splits, Fallon becomes the heir apparent to "The Tonight Show." Yes, Jay Leno has shown he has staying power, but Fallon is only 35 and Leno is approaching 60. In other words, Fallon can be patient for a few years.
Fallon has a key backer inside NBC in Lorne Michaels, the executive producer of "Saturday Night Live" who also executive produces "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon." Michaels, who nurtured O'Brien's late-night career, has not been throwing his weight behind the embattled talk show host, people within NBC say, and instead is focusing his efforts on pushing Fallon, who clearly will be in line to eventually succeed Leno.
That Michaels would distance himself from O'Brien seems surprising. However, you don't last as long as he has without knowing where to pick your battles. Also, Michaels is apparently miffed that he didn't get an executive producing credit on "The Tonight Show" when O'Brien took over hosting. A spokeswoman for Michaels declined to comment.
NBC Sports chief Dick Ebersol has already made his feelings about O'Brien perfectly clear in today's New York Times when he eviscerated "The Tonight Show" host's seven months on the job. Ebersol, who has never been a fan of Jay Leno either, is tight with Michaels and is also on board with the Fallon-is-the-future movement, people within the network say.
While Fallon has big guns backing him, his numbers need work. Fallon trails CBS's "Late Late Show" in viewers and key demographics and is not doing as well as O'Brien was in the slot. This season, Fallon is averaging 1.4 million viewers. At this time last season, "Conan O'Brien" was averaging almost 2 million viewers. Fallon is trailing CBS's "Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson" by almost 550,000 viewers. However, in the coveted 18-49 demographic, Fallon is tied with Ferguson. Still, his numbers with that group are off 25% from where O'Brien was.
Of course, a year ago, O'Brien had a much stronger lead-in to his show from "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno."
-- Joe Flint
Photo: Jimmy Fallon. Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images.